I went to an exhibition last week at Suntory Museum and learned a new Japanese phrase that so completely captures the Japanese way of life. A phrase which increasingly resonates with me.
(From Wikipedia): Mono no aware (もののあはれ), literally "the pathos of things," and also translated as "an empathy toward things," or "a sensitivity to ephemera," is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常 mujō?), or transience of things, and a gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing.
This phase was an epiphany to me... why the Japanese seemed so obsessed with taking pictures, celebrating micro-seasonal changes with festivals, making a spiritual "ceremony" of such a simple act of making tea. One aspect of this culture is so conscientious of honoring the present. For me, it has translated into a "mono awareness" of what it is to celebrate "living for today, and living today".
The Black Butler (in Akasaka)
It was such a treat to be invited by a Japanese set designer to a full dress rehearsal of a Manga turned musical performance earlier this month. While some of the singing lacked luster, it was a great first hand experience to see a live production of "The Black Butler". The stage set was quite impressive and the piece, set in Victorian England about the adventures of a demonic butler and his 14 year old young British Lord, with an entire Japanese cast was ... a tad surreal.
Shaped like a Prefecture
The mascot of the Chiba prefecture is called Chiba-kun, and he is shaped like... the shape of Chiba prefecture! I rarely set scores by these mascot creatures but conceptually, he's pretty special.
An Acquired Taste
I was so fascinated when I first saw these, called Japanese Goya, a variety of gourd. It turns out they taste the same but have a different texture on the outside as the ones I grew up with in Singapore. I cooked them using a family recipe, in a stir-fry with eggs, rice vermicelli, minced garlic and they tasted exactly the way I remembered! The vegetable has to be sliced thinly as it has a bitterness to it. It is an acquired taste.
Sympatico: Cats and Cemeteries
Nezu is a rather unspoiled neighborhood in Tokyo. There are about seven thousand graves on the grounds of the Yanaka Cemetery. It was a cloudy day and its furry living inhabitants were out and about, taking in the cool weather.
The Lost Love Letter
New Wagashi designs at my favorite shop Shiono in Akasaka. The first one is fashioned after the small individual Hydrangea flower unit; the season for "appreciating" Hydrangea is around the corner with the upcoming raining season. The second design is titled "The lost love letter". The design mimics a leaf with a single drop of dew.
A carp feeding frenzy
At the pond located on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shinto Shrine. For 100 yen, a vending machine by a little hut overhanging the pond dispenses a cigarette size box of fish food pellets. The result is a cacophony of colors breaking the surface of the water in a feeding frenzy.
Scale and Space
"Nokogiri-yama", in Chiba, the "Saw Mountain". This hiking park is home to two immense Daibutsu or Buddha statues and a score of smaller ones set in various enclaves. The Yajushi Nyorai stands at 101.9 ft, (31.05 meters). According to the literature handed out, the park is "the oldest Imperial invocation place of worship in the Kanto area". Ergo, the Emperor laid a pretty penny down to get it done.
The second large Daibutsu is carved into the side of a stone hill with less dimensionality but no less poetry and beauty. It was pretty steep climbing up many flights of steps to get to the top of the mountain but the view of the surrounding mountains and sea was beautiful. The air was fresh and invigorating.
The building where the Emperor would have taken his tea ceremony. I am constantly surprised that edifices associated with the Emperor are imbued with such incredible austerity. The roof is painted a subtle grey and the rest of the wood is left unadorned and unpainted.
Taking a breather at a humble tea house (for the common people). Seasonal Wagashi served with a delicate bamboo pick, with Matcha (finely ground, high quality green tea that is used in tea ceremonies) and a sprig of green on an elegant lacquer tray.
At Futtsu Beach, right at the "belly button" of the Chiba prefecture, (if you were looking at the overlay of the mascot shape). A structure of interconnecting viewing platforms right by the beach made for a distinct silhouette.
Two halves and a Whole
It was a very windy day and the beach was covered in seaweed and lots of shells, with the occasional washed up jellyfish. I found a rare fully intact sand dollar and what is more incredible, I found two halves of a second one, one half I picked up when I first started walking on the beach and the second half on the way back to the starting point.